Parshas Toldos begins the next generation of the Jewish People with the story of the life of Yitzchak. If you stop to think about it, this parsha stands out among the others in Sefer Bereishis as the only parsha to discuss the details of Yitzchak’s life. While Avraham’s life was discussed over the previous 3 parshiyos and Yaakov’s takes us to the end of the Sefer, Yitzchak’s life was only deemed necessary to discuss for one parsha. Why is this? The whole purpose of writing the details of the lives of our Avos in the Torah is to teach us life lessons. Were there not enough lessons to be learned from the life of Yitzchak? Was he, perhaps, less important than Avraham and Yaakov? G-d forbid!
Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky explains that like we said earlier, the purpose of telling us the story of the Avos is to teach us specific life lessons, of which each of the Avos taught a different one. However, the amount of attention each one gets in the Torah directly correlates to the influence they had upon the world. Why was Yitzchak’s lesson not as influential as the others?
Let’s examine the lessons of each one of the Avos. Avraham’s main attribute was Chessed. The simple understanding of his mission is he would provide for people and when they wanted to thank him, he would teach them to thank Hashem instead. However, it goes deeper than that. Avraham recognized that everything he had was an act of kindness on the part of Hashem. When Avraham did Chessed, he did it in order to model his actions after those of the Creator. So when his guests would thank him for his kindness, he would direct their thanks heavenward; “You think I’m giving you all this? I’ve been blessed with kindness as well! All this comes from Hashem, He’s the one you should thank. I’m just passing His gifts along to you!” A life based on kindness and mercy is an attractive one to be a part of and drew many people closer to Hashem.
Yaakov’s main characteristic was his pursuit of Truth. His pursued truth by learning Torah, the ultimate guide to the universe, written and given to us by Hashem Himself. By plumbing the depths of the Torah, Yaakov was able to discern the real truths of the universe. He spent his life representing honesty and teaching Torah to anyone who would listen. It was through him that the young nation became connected to the Torah and formulated a relationship with Hashem. While it may not be as attractive as a warm inviting home of kindness, a knowledge of truth and is attractive as well. Therefore, Yaakov drew many people to Hashem as well.
Yitzchak’s main characteristic was his diligence in his service to Hashem, a trait that was built on his strong sense of Din and Mishpat, which Reb Yaakov translates in this context to mean that a person must live his entire life strictly within the guidelines that Hashem has set up, without compromise. This is a difficult standard to hold oneself to, complete commitment without wavering at all! The only person to whom this is an expected way of life is one to whom this lifestyle is so precious, that his relationship and commitment to Hashem is so important, and that he is ultimately ready to give up his life for it.
This was Yitzchak’s relationship with Hashem and the Torah. His view on life was demanding but with the ultimate commitment. One of the best things in life is loving something or someone enough that you would die for it, which Yitzchak showed he was ready to do without hesitation when he volunteered to become the sacrifice Hashem needed by Akeidas Yitzchak. His life may have been exact, but Yitzchak wasn’t an unhappy person. He didn’t live his life with a sense of foreboding or fear of overstepping the lines, he lived with a happiness of being able to serve his Creator to the max. And because it was so important to him, he demanded of himself complete commitment to his lifestyle.
Yitzchak taught us the idea of Mesiras Nefesh, dying for a cause, specifically the cause of Hashem. Sadly, Jews have had to follow this practice too many times throughout history, but the idea of dying for a cause has been and will always be admired. This was Yitzchak’s contribution to the Jewish People. However, this lifestyle and level of commitment is not one for everyone, and Yitzchak did not attract nearly as many followers to Hashem as Avraham and Yaakov.
The amount of words spent on each of the Avos is in correlation to how many people they attracted to the religion at their specific time since the number of stories that they took part in ultimately comes down to how many people they interacted with and affected, of which Yitzchak had the least. In the long run, however, the amount written about each one in the Torah is insignificant; the important part is what they contributed to us, the Jewish People, their children. The lessons they taught us about how to live our lives as Ovdei Hashem. While in the times of the Torah Yitzchak may not have had many followers, his contributions towards the future nation were just as significant as his father’s and son’s. In fact, while Chessed teaches us how to be like Hashem and Torah teaches us to understand Hashem, the self-sacrifice and Mesiras Nefesh of Yitzchak is what ultimately seals our relationship with Hashem.
For more on Yitzchak's connection to Mesiras Nefesh, click here for an essay published last year on Nation's Wisdom
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